By Linda Satter
April 22, 2021 | LITTLE ROCK — The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health, has awarded a five-year $1.7 million grant to a University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) researcher studying the pathogenesis of pulmonary infection.
The UAMS laboratory run by Roger Pechous, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the College of Medicine’s Department of Microbiology and Immunology, is specifically interested in Yersinia pestis, the causative agent of plague and one of the deadliest pathogens known to man.
Pechous was initially awarded $249,635 to enable him to gather data to justify the research, and that preliminary work prompted the NIH to recently upgrade the grant by providing an additional $1,496,382 to continue the research through 2026.
“I’m interested in understanding the progression of severe pneumonia, and this type of pneumonia is as severe as it gets,” Pechous said.
Specifically, he’s interested in the bacteria that caused the bubonic plague, also known as the Black Death of the Middle Ages, and two other types of plague, including pneumonic plague, which affects the lungs. His lab studies how, once a pathogen enters the lung, it is able to cause an infection and avoid being killed by a person’s immune system.
“It is somewhat applicable to SARS [Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, a viral respiratory disease caused by a coronavirus], in that it looks at how a pathogen avoids getting cleared initially from the lungs, and more importantly, what is causing the failure of your immune system to control infection,” he said.
His goal is to figure out how a person’s immune system stifles the invader once it gets in, and why in the case of some microbes this does not occur.